Most people only embark on an interracial friendship when they can't find anyone in their own race with the same interests as them. This is the contentious and somewhat dubious finding of a joint US/Chinese study which argues that racial groups prefer to stick to their own kind; especially when living in larger communities.
Interracial picture from Shutterstock
Researchers from the Universities of Peking and Michigan developed a theoretical model to investigate how social context size effects the formation of friendships. According to the report, friendship formation is strongly influenced by social context, with interracial relationships declining as populations get larger.
To test their theory, the researchers analysed friendship choice data from 4,745 American high school students spread across 172 US schools. They discovered that increases in total school size decreased the proportion of interracial friendships.
This is partly attributed to larger social contexts reducing the likelihood of people meeting, but personal preference also plays a part. According to the study, individuals within a large population are more likely to find same-race people with compatible personalities, which negates the need for interracial friends.
The report goes on to conclude that global online activity could lead to higher social isolation and segmentation as social context size continues to expand:
Under the assumption of individuals’ preferences for friends with similar attributes, an increase in [population] size leads to a lower share of interracial friendships...One potential negative social consequence of the internet as a social interaction medium in the ever more globalized world is to encourage social isolation and social segmentation by expanding size immensely.
Hmm. I don't claim to be a sociologist, but I can see a few problems with this study. For starters, the researchers make the very big assumption that individuals prefer to make friends with other people of the same race.
While cultural and racial segmentation certainly takes place in large populations, surely this has more to do with language barriers and social economic differences than a reluctance to make friends with different race members? For most people, this is completely irrelevant. You could be Chinese, African, European or Aboriginal — as long as you're a fan of comics, video games and Monkey Magic, let's hang out!
The notion that interracial relationships increase as a population shrinks also doesn't quite ring true. All over the world, small towns are famed for their bigotry and racism towards minority groups within their community. Meanwhile, larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne usually have a cosmopolitan vibe where cultures and races mix freely.
That said, none of the above applies to whinging poms in Australia. Go back to Blighty, y'hear? And Kiwis, eh? Who needs 'em? And don't get us started on the-[snip — Ed.]
How many 'interracial' friends do you have? Is it something you even notice? Let us know in the comments section below.